I'm an American teacher working in China, and my students are writing resumes to for their college applications. All of my students have English names that they plan to use when they attend college to make it easier for non-Chinese speakers to pronounce and remember their names. This is a very common practice in China.

How should they list their names on their resume? For example, my coworker's name is 张琼 ("Zhang Qiong") and her English name is "Beth."

I suggested she write:

Zhang "Beth" Qiong

As Beth is her nick-name and that's how I've seen it in movie credits.

Another option is:

Zhang Qiong (Beth Zhang)

Which has the benefit of highlighting the fact that "Zhang" is her surname (many Westerners aren't aware that surnames go first in China), but the disadvantage of being redundant ("Zhang" appears twice).

Is there a best practice for this?


5 Answers 5


Resumes should be tailored for the audience they're intended for

(In fact, pretty much everything communicated should be done with the intent of clearly conveying information to the recipient as best as possible. If you're a tech person communicating with someone that's been a HVAC repair specialist for 20 years, the tech person shouldn't be using terms like DDoS, and the HVAC person shouldn't be using terms like PSID - neither will understand what the other is saying.)

In other words, if these resumes are intended to be read by a westerner? Then, simply list the name as Beth Zhang. If the resume is intended to be read by a Chinese company? Then list the name as Zhang Qiong.

Simply put, there's no need to list both names. Write it for the person reading it.

  • This doesn't really address the root of the question which is: what does the person reading it want? Specifically, does the college admissions department want something they can pronounce (Beth Zhang), or something that matches the rest of the application (Zhang Qiong)? Oct 29, 2020 at 11:12
  • 7
    This can cause issues with background checks though - the "real" name (as in the one that appears in official documents and records) should appear somewhere.
    – Mavrik
    Oct 29, 2020 at 19:32
  • @Mavrik: I assume you'd still list your "Chinese" name, using ideographs, as it would appear in official Chinese documents.
    – MSalters
    Oct 30, 2020 at 8:01

There are 2 issues here. The first issue is that Asian names tend to be ordered Last-First, while Western names are First-Last. If Beth is applying to a Western institution (or company), many, or at least some, of the places she is applying will think her first name is Zhang, and that might be awkward. So my first piece of advice to Beth would be to write her name first-last on her application to avoid this confusion. It's fairly well-known that Zhang is a popular Chinese last name so perhaps that can be avoided, but it would be better avoided by making it explicit this way.

Then, I've usually seen Anglicized (common) names in parentheses after the first name. So in your example, it would be Qiong (Beth) Zhang. If Beth thinks it's important to retain the Asian ordering of her name, then the common name tends to be after the first name, at the end: Zhang Qiong (Beth), although this is less common.

  • You know, in this day and age it would be pretty incredible for anyone to not know that Chinese names are last-first. China is the biggest country on Earth, the most advanced country on Earth, the planet's economic, technical and industrial leader, 95% of every single thing anyone touches is made in China, China rules social media and apps, and especially if one works in programming or technology (or, it goes without saying, any sort of product or manufacturing) everything is China-all-day. I don't think in this day and age we can say "someone (where?!) would not know Chinese name order"!
    – Fattie
    Oct 29, 2020 at 11:15
  • 4
    You would be surprised.
    – Ertai87
    Oct 29, 2020 at 14:24
  • 2
    @Fattie I'm pretty sure that an overwhelming majority of the people I know do not know that Chinese names are last-first, and I've witnessed this cause lots of trouble with mail distribution. The usual solution is to capitalize the last name and not the first name; a mail addressed to "ZHANG Qiong" or "Qiong ZHANG" has better chance to reach its recipient than a mail addressed to "Zhang Qiong".
    – Stef
    Oct 29, 2020 at 16:27

Is there a best practice for this?

I'm not sure of any real codified standards, but capitalizing the entire SURNAME is a very handy way to cut down on ambiguity (that should hopefully catch on more everywhere).

The string of Latin-alphabet characters Zhang "Beth" Qiong in the name field is a poor choice for the target audience of American colleges/universities. It indicates the nickname well, but leaves ambiguity over surname. If an American assumes that it was properly and fully Westernized, then Qiong is the surname; whereas if they assume that it is simply a Romanization of the Eastern standard, then Zhang is the surname.

A better representation (for the American target audience) would be Qiong "Beth" ZHANG because it follows the Western default (i.e. intelligible to even folks with no clue about Eastern/Western naming convention differences) and also has an indicator that the surname is following that fully-Western default standard (i.e. no ambiguity as to whether it might follow a Romanized Eastern convention).

(Furthermore, an all-caps surname is also helpful even when following a Romanized Eastern convention, as it once again helps to delineate what standard along the translation gradient the name is conforming to use.)


On resumes

Is there a best practice for this?

Yes, I have always seen

Zhang Beth Qiong

As you mention, quotes - John "Fattie" Smith or Eddie "Play Faster" Van Halen - are, precisely, for nicknames. It's not a nickname at all.

Brackets are used for a translation or transliteration. Rebecca (Capitivating) Smith or Makoto (Peaceful) Watanabe or 张 (Zhang) 琼 (Keeong).

The usual practice is you treat it exactly as a middle name - it's that simple.

  • Do not use quotes unless it's a John "Fattie" Smith nickname, and it is not.

  • Do not use brackets, because that's just for phonetically showing a foreign alphabet in English @#$&# (Hengee), or rarely for meanings, irrelevant here.

I knew of a Chinese engineer whose name (i.e. "English name," as discussed) was as I recall Joe, but, he also had a popular nickname! So I guess you'd write ChineseCharacters Joe "The King" ChineseCharacters.

  • 7
    I've only ever seen these names provided in quotes or parentheses, and both of them seem clear to me. If I saw Zhang Beth Qiong, it wouldn't be clear to me that the person prefers to be addressed as "Beth."
    – A N
    Oct 28, 2020 at 14:18
  • Hmm, having owned a small company in China and others in the region, I don't agree AN (well obviously I put in an answer!) but it's interesting to hear that. quote (nick) braces (explanation/sound) have pretty clearly accepted usage. the "english name" is simply a middle-name.
    – Fattie
    Oct 28, 2020 at 14:32
  • one point, note that they don't "prefer to be addressed" as Beth. exactly like a middle name, it's an alternative
    – Fattie
    Oct 28, 2020 at 14:33

This is from some aspect an opinion-based question. So I happily give mine.

Your students are adapting a new name so why not adapting the order?

Order should be of second degree of importance compared to the first name change. Look it this way, if she also wants to change her family name to Smith for example, is there any reason for her to go with Smith Beth in her resume?

So I would definitely go for first-last order.

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